A guide to Zeiss lens choices for Sony FE

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The challenge we have now is no longer one of insufficient lenses: it’s almost one of too many. Having spent the last few months navigating the options and trying to figure out which of them work best for me, I now feel qualified to write this post which will a) explain the differences, b) make some recommendations both for the various series of lenses and within them as a whole. It’s worth noting that these comments and lens options apply to mirrorless cameras in general, though I’ve chosen Sony FE specifically because a) I own the A7RII, and b) there are several ‘native mount’ options that are available for Sony that aren’t for other systems – the first three on the list for starters, and won’t adapt because they require electronics*. I do honestly wish they’d thought out some of the naming better, though – it just lands up being both confusing for photographers and a bit of nightmare for their marketing team.

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The Sony A7RII (updated, 16 Sep 2015)

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Most asked question via email for July/August 2015: “What do you think of the Sony A7RII?”

Second most asked question via email for July/August 2015: “When will you be reviewing the Sony A7RII?”

Fanboys should stop reading now. There are uncomfortable truths contained within this post. [Read more…]

Review: The Sony A7 Mark II; nearly there…(Updated, 21 Jan)

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We now have no less than four full frame mirrorless options from Sony; the A7R (previously reviewed here); the A7, the A7S, and now the A7II. This appears to be typical Sony strategy: rather than making a product that’s a definite improvement on the previous model, we get many attempts hoping that each one will find its’ own niche. The A7II brings one thing that makes me curious enough to give it a try despite an uninspiring experience with its predecessor: the first full-frame mirrorless camera to have in body stabilization.

I reviewed a production A7II with the Zeiss 55/1.8 and 24-70/4 OSS lenses, running firmware 1.10. Unfortunately, the 24-70 was either a poor sample or just optically a dog – very soft off-axis and with significant CA, so all of these images were shot with the 55/1.8. I will upload more to this flickr set in due course.

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Review: Sony Cyber-Shot RX100 Mark III

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In full Transformer mode

Two of the most interesting cameras in recent memory – the 645Z and RX100III, at completely opposite ends of the imaging spectrum but both pushing image quality – are arriving this week and I have a fundamental problem: a lack of light. Kuala Lumpur is blanketed in a horrible 100+API haze again that’s eating light and turning the sky into a giant drybox; right after two weeks of fantastic crystal-clear weather during which we had stars every night. I’ve made the most of the windows of opportunity, but in an ideal world I’d have liked to push the dynamic range of the thing a bit more.

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Review: The 2013 Sony A7R

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Sony are known for pushing the technological envelope; the first NEX-5 showed us just how small an APS-C camera could be – with decent frame rates and AF speeds, no less. However, the rules of optics are not so easily breakable: lenses still have to be a certain size to cover a certain image circle at a given aperture and focal length. The NEX kit lenses were no smaller than APS-C DSLR lenses – because that’s pretty much what they were. Unfortunately, Sony are also known for serious attention deficit disorder when it comes to products and systems; recently one of their executives (Kimio Maki, GM of Sony’s Digital Imaging Business Group) was quoted as saying he wanted to do something new every six months. A good example is the RX1, superseded by the RX1R a year later, and effectively killed by the A7 and A7R now; new RX1Rs that sold for approx. US$3,300 in Japan plummeted to just US$1,300 or thereabouts in used value the day after the A7 twins were released. I don’t know whether that represents a relentless commitment to innovation at all costs, or whether it’s just sticking it to your customers. Nevertheless, the like the NEX-5 (which I owned, didn’t mind the limited controls, but found pretty good except for tonal palette) – the A7R pushes things a bit further; far enough to be in interesting territory. We now have full frame – and the best full frame sensor at that – in an E-M1-sized body. Surely there has to be a catch somewhere?

Images in this review were shot with the A7R and Zeiss 55/1.8 FE. An extended set on flickr with more samples is here.

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Review: The Sony RX10

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Does a fairly bulky/ heavy, expensive – $1,300 – fixed-lens, (relatively – 1″) small sensor camera have a place in the current camera ecology? Sony seems to think so. The RX10 is all about its lens: a fixed-aperture 24-200/2.8, Zeiss-branded unit that’s about the size of an 85/1.8 for a full frame camera. It is definitely not small. Sensibly, Sony have scaled the rest of the camera to match. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to figure out whether this is perhaps one of the smartest products of late, or fighting an uphill battle. The sad reality is that it probably will disappear as a footnote, overshadowed by its illogical A7 and A7r brethren.

Note: Welcome to the new review format. I’m going to tell you what I think, nothing more, nothing less. I shoot raw and process with ACR/ PS CC with the intention of subjecting the files to my normal workflow and finished-shot standards. If you’re looking for rigorous technical tests, there are other sites who have the time and resources to do it more comprehensively than I do. What I do is actually use the equipment to make photographs – after all, isn’t that the point of a camera?

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Quick thoughts on the Sony A7 and A7R


Image from B&H.

The internet is going to be full of anticipation, excitement, speculation and various forms of virtual hand-wringing over Sony’s latest announcement: full frame mirrorless. I’m sure some bloggers have already had a chance to use one, but given the local market entity’s attitude, don’t expect to see a review from me anytime soon (if at all). As interesting as it is, I simply won’t be able to get a camera. What I can do is put together a few initial thoughts. I don’t normally join the equipment frenzy, but I think this is significant enough that it warrants some serious consideration.

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Sony and Olympus: what does it mean?

Following the accounting scandal that saw former CEO Michael Woodford ousted, Olympus’ coffers were looking decidedly empty; at that point, many potential suitors were rumoured. It turned out that Sony was the one whose offer was accepted. In a share transfer and cash deal – completed about a month ago – Sony pumped US$645 million into the company, to hold a total of 11.5%. What’s more interesting is that on most of the major business sites, this wasn’t reported as a transaction to invest in the cameramaker; rather, Olympus was frequently referred to as a ‘world leader in medical imaging’.

Although photographers know and love Olympus as the manufacturer of various quirky cameras and small systems, the truth is that margins in the medical industry – anything with ‘surgical’ or ‘medical’ in its name means an extra couple of zeroes on the end of the price tag – are much, much higher than the camera business. Like Nikon, it’s been making a good chunk of its income from something other than cameras for a long time. (I don’t know how much it makes from dictaphones these days, though.)

I’m going to take off my photographer hat now and wear my analyst/ M&A/ consultant one, for a bit of change of pace. Let’s put the pieces together.

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Last day to enter – win the multispectral Sony NEX-5!

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Today is the last day to enter the Mingthein.com black and white challenge. The prize is a Multispectral Sony NEX-5 (complete with kit lens and everything else a new one comes with, except the strap which I can’t seem to find) that shoots in UV, IR and Visible light – modified by yours truly. It is an outstanding machine for B&W photography, and has no anti-aliasing filter to boot.

I’ve created a new group on Flickr here: The Mingthein.com B&W Challenge specifically for this purpose.

1. Like the site’s Facebook page – title your submission with your Facebook username so I can check. Entries without Facebook usernames will be disqualified.
2. To submit an image, enter it in The Mingthein.com B&W Challenge Flickr group pool.
3. Your image must be in black and white; toning is NOT allowed.
4. Any subject, medium or cameras is fair game. You can shoot large format sheet film if you are so inclined.
5. Postprocessing is allowed, but anything overly done will almost certainly not win on aesthetic grounds.
6. Judging will be by me and the anonymous donor of the camera; our decision is final. The best image will win. And yes, it’s subjective etc – but this is a photography contest, photography is art, and art is a matter of taste.
7. Images will have a better chance of winning if they meet most or all of the important factors; you can find a lengthy discourse here…
8. You must own the rights to the image you submit.
9. The competition will run until the end of January 2013; closing time is 00:00 1 Feb 2013, GMT+8 (i.e. the end of the 1st of Feb when it hits midnight in Kuala Lumpur; easier to give the people in odd timezones a fair chance)
10. Multiple entries are allowed, but I’m going to restrict the pool to one per person per week: think carefully before you submit. You can remove and replace if you shoot something better.
11. You will need a flickr account to post images to the pool, but it’s free to sign up.
12. By entering, you give me and the mingthein.com site the right to re-post your image as part competition announcements and posts.
13. The winner will be announced in the first couple of weeks of February 2013 – depending on when I can meet up with our donor for the judging. We’ll ship the camera to you by EMS shortly thereafter.

Shoot me an email if there are any questions. I think that’s about it – good shooting, and good luck! MT

Competition: Win the multispectral Sony NEX-5!

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In yesterday’s post, I recounted the journey of modifying a digital camera with the intention of creating something that would deliver outstanding out-of-camera black and white results; I had the rich, deep shadows and light but subtle highlights of film in mind, plus the crispness of the best non-AA-filtered cameras. The result, after three days of work and testing – on a camera generously donated by a reader – is a Sony NEX-5 that has no filtration in front of the sensor other than the Bayer pattern – no UV or IR or anti-aliasing. You’re looking at bare silicon if you stare down the lens mount.

Today, I’m happy to announce a competition which will give a reader a chance to own a camera personally modified by me. The camera is as-new cosmetically, is complete with box, kit lens and all accessories as sold (except the strap, that seems to have gone missing); it is out of warranty though (and will be anyway since I ripped out the filter pack).

Since this is a photography site first, and this camera was supposed to be a monochrome machine, it can only mean one thing: a black and white challenge!

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I’ve created a new group on Flickr here: The Mingthein.com B&W Challenge specifically for this purpose.

1. Like the site’s Facebook page – title your submission with your Facebook username so I can check. Entries without Facebook usernames will be disqualified.
2. To submit an image, enter it in The Mingthein.com B&W Challenge Flickr group pool.
3. Your image must be in black and white; toning is NOT allowed.
4. Any subject, medium or cameras is fair game. You can shoot large format sheet film if you are so inclined.
5. Postprocessing is allowed, but anything overly done will almost certainly not win on aesthetic grounds.
6. Judging will be by me and the anonymous donor of the camera; our decision is final. The best image will win. And yes, it’s subjective etc – but this is a photography contest, photography is art, and art is a matter of taste.
7. Images will have a better chance of winning if they meet most or all of the important factors; you can find a lengthy discourse here…
8. You must own the rights to the image you submit.
9. The competition will run until the end of January 2013; closing time is 00:00 1 Feb 2013, GMT+8 (i.e. the end of the 1st of Feb when it hits midnight in Kuala Lumpur; easier to give the people in odd timezones a fair chance)
10. Multiple entries are allowed, but I’m going to restrict the pool to one per person per week: think carefully before you submit. You can remove and replace if you shoot something better.
11. You will need a flickr account to post images to the pool, but it’s free to sign up.
12. By entering, you give me and the mingthein.com site the right to re-post your image as part competition announcements and posts.
13. The winner will be announced in the first couple of weeks of February 2013 – depending on when I can meet up with our donor for the judging. We’ll ship the camera to you by EMS shortly thereafter.
14. There is no time limit on when images have to have been taken.

Shoot me an email if there are any questions. I think that’s about it – good shooting, and good luck! MT

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